How to Share the “mental Workload” of Household Chores With Your Partner

My wife and I try to share household chores equally: she cooks, I wash the dishes. She buys groceries, I wash. My easiest job is to set the table. It takes about a minute and she has to remind me every time.

The problem is not the problem itself; with that in mind. If she doesn’t remind me beforehand, I’ll notice it at the last minute and get in her way, pushing past her to grab the silverware while she sets the food down.

French comic book artist Emma describes and addresses this issue in Gender Wars in Household Affairs : Among heterosexual couples, even when men do the same household chores, women still have a disproportionate “mental burden” associated with doing the job. This creates a kind of continuous partial attention that drains energy and causes stress. It also creates an invisible hierarchy in which men feel like employees in conflict with their boss.

Men often do not appreciate or share this invisible management job. If you can help carry the burden, you can relieve your partner’s stress and feel less subservient.

Anticipate needs

Part of the solution is to simply raise your awareness. Don’t just “wash” – watch your basket and take the initiative to start the download. Determine when your tasks usually need to be completed and plan ahead for them.

I am learning to set the table an hour ahead of time. And my kind and patient wife will find out that if she says, “Don’t worry, you have a lot of time,” she will simply allow me to avoid this mental burden.

Write it down

I have a short attention span and a bad memory. Fortunately, I also have a smartphone. I do calendar events for a rental check; I keep a shopping list, so when my wife asks what we need, I have an answer. Writing down the smallest work is still better than forgetting, and this is the first step in learning how to simply memorize.

Automate this

Turn your phone into your manager and get rid of the mental burden altogether. Add alarms to these calendar events. Set location-based notifications to remind you when you drive past a pharmacy to stop by. Transfer your regular shopping trips to Amazon Subscribe & Save .

Outsource it

The wave of applications has made it easier to outsource things like washing and walking the dogs . Depending on your budget, consider a cleaning lady, but pay attention to who is in charge of hiring, managing, and paying.

Learn the skills

Some responsibilities are ultimately performed by one person, depending on their abilities or interests. My wife loves to cook, so I never learned. This usually works, but when she is sick or busy, the system crashes. On those nights, I take charge and handle seamless orders, but in order to truly achieve a certain level of fairness, I need to learn how to cook.

The next time your partner does his job, ask him to teach you. On the second try, ask them to back off and simply advise while you are doing the physical task yourself. At first it will slow you both down, but from now on you will be a more reliable “backup” – and you may find that you are just as interested in the chores as they are.

Transfer resources

Many responsibilities depend on access to certain resources, especially logins or files. The fact that one of you provides health insurance does not mean that the other cannot manage it. Sit down with your partner and exchange logins for anything that affects your family, such as shared bank accounts, insurance, doctor portals, your kids’ school portals, or shared mobile plans. The most popular password managers provide common storage for all of this data.

Be prepared to answer each other on the phone. Based on your comfort level, share identifying information such as your Social Security number and check if your doctor or accountant will allow you to speak to them on behalf of your partner. (Some require a prior signature.)

You can share any Amazon Prime account with family members even in different locations. Share your streaming service login so you can manage family playlists and queues. If you can handle the closeness, share calendars so you can get a feel for each other’s availability and workloads.

Have a family meeting

Many mental pressures remain unnoticed until the responsible partner speaks. Unfortunately, this often happens during a fight. Reflect conflict by regularly discussing upcoming responsibilities in a friendly communication context. Sunday night is a great time to talk about the coming week and exchange certain responsibilities. Even when the conversation does not lead to any specific action, it helps you become aware of each other’s mental pressures. Then, when the inconsistency needs to be addressed, you have much less work to do and less chance of using your responsibilities as ammunition.

Make the kids work

Children should help with the housework as soon as they can, but they often need guidance. Relieve some of the mental stress by teaching them how to manage themselves. Lifehacker writer Beth Skorecki asks her children to “be the master of cleaning the table,” telling her what to take while she does all the work. “They love their little energy journey, but I love that they actually pay attention to what this mess is and how to clean it up.” This management-only outsourcing even helps kids learn to cook before they are old enough to take on dangerous tasks on their own.

Prepare for major change

The most important application of all these methods is during major life changes: loss (or gain) of a job, injury or childbirth. This is when unrecognized mental workloads, which take longer to transfer or outsource than physical activities, explode. The more flexible you are with your partner, and the more hassle you both are comfortable sharing, the more you can handle the crisis.


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